QUESTION This question concerns a phenomenon for which the only term I know is the "substantivized adjective," i.e., an adjective used as a noun, e.g. "the elected." Using adjectives as nouns is often useful and necessary, especially when expr essing abstract ideas or relationships, as one often needs to do in my field of philosophy. In a recent student paper, I came across some instances of this that appear to me to be excessive, and I need now to come up with an explanation for why this is s o, and a rule that can be applied. Here are two sample sentences:
By contrast, here is a sentence written by the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (whom my students are reading and writing about) which contains some successful instances of substantivized adjectives:
- "The dialogue is the fundamental, not Being"
- "The fundamental, the precognitive, is the ability to speak.""Saying Thou is not an aim, but precisely an allegiance to the invisible, to the invisible thought vigorously not only as the non-sensible, but as the unknowable and unthematizable per se, of which one can say nothing" (Outside the Subject, p. 34).Can you explain to me why the student's use appears unacceptable, but Levinas's use seems perfectly fine?
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Toronto, Ontario, Canada Sat, Dec 16, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE It probably has something to do with the stature of Levinas. As a layman in such matters, it's a toss-up between "the fundamental" and "the non-sensible" and unquiet dreams of something called "the unthematizable" walking the streets give me the fantods. The process of other word forms taking on noun form is called nominalization. We see it happening with verbs all the time: "occur" becomes "occurence" and "oppose" becomes "opposition" (not that there's anything wrong with the results of the process in this case). We have a problem with the process when the sentence becomes vague or unnecessarily passive as a result. Instead of saying that "environmentalists recognize the threat of global warning," we might say "there is a growing recognition among environmentalists that. . . ." (The agent who's doing what? becomes lost.) I suspect the same is true of philosophical discourse. If it is clear within the Levinas text that "the non-sensible" refers to a widely understood and useful concept, then it becomes acceptable. I suspect that "the fundamental" is not so comprehensible as a concept. By careful definition, the student might very well make it acceptable, but he/she probably has a ways to go. Furthermore, I would suggest, some adjectives are in such dire need of something to modify "the fundamental what?" that our ears just refuse to accept them as nominalizations. How one would measure that need is beyond me.
QUESTION Which of the following is proper English?
- "Here is your five dollars." or
- "Here are your five dollars."
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE College Park, Maryland Sat, Dec 16, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The "five dollars" is probably regarded as a sum here, a singular quantity. I'd use the singular "is." If you're thinking of the five dollars as five individual, countable, one-dollar bills, you could use the plural verb.
QUESTION Would you please advise when to use "nauseous" vs. "nauseated"? I often hear people say "I feel nauseous". Does this not mean that they are feeling like they make others feel ill? How should it be stated when one is attempting to express that they feel ill? SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Yorba Linda, California Wed, Dec 20, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The distinction between nauseous and nauseated is no longer widely regarded as important and the words are used interchangeably at virtually all levels of writing. I remember people insisting that poisonous and poisoned would be analogous (you wouldn't say you were poisonous if someone just slipped you some arsenic), but contemporary dictionaries don't support that claim. Saying that you feel nauseous can mean (along with nauseated) that you are affected by nausea. The word can also mean disgusted or disgusting.
Authority: New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage HarperCollins: New York. 1994. Cited with permission.
Authority: The New Fowler's Modern English Usage edited by R.W. Burchfield. Clarendon Press: Oxford, England. 1996. Used with the permission of Oxford University Press.
QUESTION Hi from downunder, I have a brief question that is driving me nuts. Do I use MAY or CAN in the following sentence?
I couldn't find the answer in the site. I'm guessing it is MAY and we just get lazy and say CAN. Am I right? Thanks for your help
- 1. How CAN I help you?
- 2. How MAY I help you?
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Somewhere, Australia Wed, Dec 20, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE Frankly, I have a hard time seeing a distinction here, but in formal writing, at least, you'd want to use "may." If someone asks "How can I help you?" the logical (but rather snippy) response is "How should I know." The modal auxiliary may more exactly offers, in a polite and somewhat tentative manner, the possibility of helping.
QUESTION I am curious as to the correct use of the exclamation mark (your pages have provided little help). I have seen, in older texts, the exclamation mark used thusly;"War ! horrid war ! "That is to say, a space is left between the letters and the exclamation mark, and with the following word not capitalised, as opposed to"War! Horrid war!"However, it is often that I see the second example. Please could you tell me which one is correct, not just acceptable. SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Unknown Wed, Dec 20, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I have never seen a space between an end mark and the last letter of the preceding word. If it does exist, that extra space between the last letter and the exclamation mark, it's probably only a typographical anomaly and I wouldn't pay any attention to it. Regarding the lower-case "h," I haven't seen that either, but it certainly seems logical. We do that kind of thing in a series of brief and closely connected questions, so I don't know why we couldn't do it in a series of brief and closely related exclamations also (although I can find no examples of the sort in my reference books).
QUESTION Have you ever wished there were/was a simpler way to always support your favorite charities?The verb choice for this sentence has caused some confusion in our office. After doing some research on your site, I feel like were is correct, because the sentence is in the subjunctive mood I think. Because it's a question and things get a little turned around, plus the fact that it has a prepositional phrase and extra modifiers, the whole thing gets pretty confusing and I don't want the final word to be mine!
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE St. Petersburg, Florida Wed, Dec 20, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE You're right. It is an appropriate use of the subjunctive "were." It's not really the question that turns things around; it's the expletive construction "there was/were," which puts the subject, "a simpler way," after the verb. But that inverted word order doesn't change the fact that the "wishing" puts the verb into the subjunctive mood, so we want "were."
QUESTION Which is correct:
Is the hyphen necessary for clearly communicated?
- The administrative department provides friendly, clearly-communicated information to anyone who enters the office.
- The administrative department provides friendly, clearly communicated information to anyone who enters the office.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Columbia, Maryland Fri, Dec 22, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE No. Generally, we don't use a hyphen between an adverb and the thing it modifies. By the way, I'm not sure what "friendly information" is supposed to mean. The people who offer the information are probably friendly enough, but I'm not sure that information, in itself, can be friendly.
QUESTION I would like to know what is the correct way to indicate that more than one option can be checked to answer a question: 'check all that apply' or 'check all that applies'?
Are both correct? Is the correct form influenced by the addition of other words to the instruction? (e.g. Tick all answers that apply, tick all that applies to your situation).
Many thanks for your reply, if you can help me out.
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Enschede, the Netherlands Fri, Dec 22, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE If you have created a situation in which your responding user can click on more than one option, you want the plural verb, "apply." If the user was to click on one option, you'd want to say something like "click on the option that applies" (singular).
QUESTION Concerning conditionals, may those to-infinitives followed by conditional clauses be regarded as functioning as a main clause?
Examples:[Note the to-infinitive phrase following "readiness.]
"Prime Minister Ehud Barak indicated readiness to accept U.S. peace suggestions should Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accept them."[Note the to-infinitive following "team."]
"Moscow was preparing a two-man team to go up to Mir should it be necessary to carry out an early inspection."
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Surrey, BC, Canada Sat, Dec 30, 2000 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The clauses beginning with "should," in each case, are, indeed, just that: clauses, adverbial clauses modifying the verb of the main clause, "indicated" and "was preparing," respectively. But the infinitive phrases preceding these adverbial clauses are themselves part of the main clause. In the first sentence, the infinitive phrase "to accept U.S. peace suggestions" is modifying (in my opinion) the word "readiness" (what kind of readiness), and in the second sentence, the infinitive phrase "to go up to Mir" is modifying "team" (describing the purpose of the team? or is it modifying the verb "was preparing," telling us why Moscow was doing something? In any case, though, the infinitive phrase is not a main clause; it's part of the main clause.
QUESTION I am a proofreader at an ad agency, and our style (even though I dislike it) is to always delete the serial comma.
Following is a sentence in which I wanted to delete the serial comma. But I got word that it should remain, as it is a "Harvard comma."
I've never heard of this. Can you help?
Thanks!"It's a time of rodeos, festive food, and gifts of shiny spurs and silver dollars."
SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Unknown Sun, Jan 7, 2001 GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE I have heard the serial comma referred to as the "Oxford comma" before, but never as the "Harvard comma." In newspaper writing, the serial comma is seldom used, and that's a prejudice that undoubtedly carries well into advertising. In formal, academic prose, it's used more often than not. I would certainly use it after the word "food," but I'm not in advertising.
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